Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jackson Pursues Banks

Pursuit of Banks
150 years ago yesterday Jackson defeated the small garrison of Front Royal, so today he began his pursuit. His position was very good. He was very close to Bank's line of retreat, and if he moved quickly he could catch him while on his retreat to Winchester. Banks did not receive news of Jackson's strike until this morning, and he decided to retreat at once, leaving half of his 5000 wagons which made up his supply depot, he marched for Winchester. Jackson marched at 6:00 am, but he moved cautiously, as he did not know how many men were stationed in Winchester. There were actually only 900 men. As Jackson moved north, he was only 5 miles away from a huge prize, Bank's 15 mile long wagon train. A force finally reached the Valley Pike along which Banks was moving, encountering the tail of the wagon train. As Jackson said,
In a few moments the turnpike, which just before had teemed with life, presented a most appalling spectacle of carnage and destruction. The road was literally obstructed with the mingled and confused mass of struggling and dying horses and riders.
Before Jackson could move on, he needed to determine whether he had hit the head or tail of the column. Valuable time was wasted finding out the answer, but he set his men off to pursue Bank's force, which had apparently avoided the worst danger they could have feared from Jackson.

The armies continued to march north through the night. At the head of the Confederate force was the Stonewall Brigade, under Charles Winder, which was subjected to constant skirmishing with the Federal rearguard. With this fighting at the front, it was a long slow march for the army. One cannoneer wrote after the war,
Night soon set in, and a long, weary night it was; the most trying I ever passed, in the war or out of it. From dark till daylight we did not advance more than four miles. Step by step we moved along, halting for about five minutes; then on a few steps and halt again. ... Sometimes, when a longer halt was made, we would endeavor to steal a few moments' sleep, for want of which it was hard to stand up. By the time a blanket was unrolled, the column was astir again, and so it was continued throughout the long, dreary hours of the night.
Making only six miles in as many hours, Jackson's men finally arrived south of Winchester at around 1:00 in the morning. One of Jackson's brigade commanders asked if he could let the men rest. “Colonel," Jackson replied, “I yield to no man in sympathy for the gallant men under my command; but I am obliged to sweat them tonight, that I may save their blood tomorrow. The line of hills southwest of Winchester must not be occupied by the enemy's artillery. My own must be there and in position by daylight. You shall, however, have two hours' rest.” The Confederate army was in position, with Jackson on the left of the turnpike and Ewell on the right, ready to attack the next morning.


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